It’s not very often an Olympic gold medalist visits Murray.
It happened Tuesday, however, as U.S. Olympic track and field star and four-time gold medalist Allyson Felix and her legendary coach, Bob Kersee, spent time with Murray State athletes and spoke at Wrather Auditorium.
The Murray State department of youth and nonprofit leadership teamed up with the United Way of Murray-Calloway County to host the fourth annual Giving Back Scholars program event. Felix and Kersee served as the evening’s special guests.
Before the event began, however, Felix and Kersee spent some time with the Murray State track and field and cross-country teams. Felix and standout Murray State sprinter Alexis Love reunited for the first time since they competed against each other at the USA Track & Field Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore., last June. Love earned a spot in the semi-finals in both the 100- and 200-meter events, but failed to move on to finals in either of the events. Felix went on to qualify for the London Olympic Games and took home three gold medals, including the 200-meter title.
Felix reflected on her past Olympic experiences Tuesday night, including the silver medals she earned in 2004 and 2008, and how those motivated her to snatch the gold in 2012.
“I reflected on (the 2004 and 2008 Olympics), where I got the silver medal both times, and I took them pretty hard,” Felix said. “I don’t think I ever really got over the defeat and the disappointment, and that’s really what motivated me to keep running for the next few years.”
Kersee discussed the importance of humility and character that he impresses upon his athletes, and used Felix’s 2008 defeat in Beijing as an example.
“(My athletes) win because they’re competitive, but they do it with style and they do it with grace,” Kersee said. “We don’t believe in trash talking, and we don’t downplay someone else to build ourselves up,”
Kersee said Felix never bad mouthed anyone or said anything discouraging to her competitors.
“After that 200-meter silver medal, which she calls a loss – I call it a silver medal – she was hurt by it, but she was gracious to all her competitors,” he said. “She hugged them, she did all the interviews and then she went back to her hotel room and cried.”
Felix wasn’t always a track star, however, and she got involved with sports quite a bit later than most Olympians.
After her family relocated to southern California, Felix found herself at a brand new high school as a freshman. Never having run track before, she decided to go out for the team.
“I was at a brand new high school, so I really went out for the track team just to meet new people, and I did and I also fell in love with the sport,” Felix said. “I didn’t see myself as going much further than that. It wasn’t really until my junior and senior year when I saw it as something I could do long term, and that’s when I started having Olympic dreams.”
Throughout the evening, Kersee and Felix shared their views on giving back, stressing the importance of treating others as equals, whether you are an Olympic athlete or a college student.
As the event wound down, Kersee shared one last piece of advice to the students and faculty in attendance.
“I really tell my athletes to try to stay away from cancerous personalities,” Kersee said. “It’s going to wear off on you and it’s going to wear you down. At the end of the day, they don’t really care, so many people can just walk away from situations after they’ve torn you down because they didn’t really have any character or goals from the beginning. Don’t let anybody discourage you. Keep believing in your dreams.”
Kersee will continue to coach Felix as she prepares to defend her Olympic gold in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
Story by Jonathan Ferris, Staff writer.